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Discovery Kids Latin America bulks up on preschool to gain ground in kids pay-TV

With the second-highest birth rate (2.7) in the world and a third of its population in the under-15 bracket, Latin America presents plenty of opportunities for kids programmers eager to make new channel converts. More opportunity, though, also means more competition. The territory is already home to pan-regional pay-TV nets such as Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney, Fox Kids and Sony, not to mention national terrestrials like Mexico's TV Azteca and Brazil's TV Globo, whose signals extend well beyond their countries' borders thanks to cable carriage deals.
May 1, 2003

With the second-highest birth rate (2.7) in the world and a third of its population in the under-15 bracket, Latin America presents plenty of opportunities for kids programmers eager to make new channel converts. More opportunity, though, also means more competition. The territory is already home to pan-regional pay-TV nets such as Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney, Fox Kids and Sony, not to mention national terrestrials like Mexico’s TV Azteca and Brazil’s TV Globo, whose signals extend well beyond their countries’ borders thanks to cable carriage deals.

So trying to distinguish your channel from competitors requires a unique programming proposition. And one channel that has taken this market reality to heart is Discovery Kids Latin America.

Though it initially began offering a range of fare for the preschool to tween demo in 1996, DKLA decided to shift to an all-preschool weekday lineup last summer. ‘Our preschool programming has done well ever since we launched the service in 1996, so moving to an all preschool format was a natural,’ explains Bilai Joa Silar, DKLA’s director of programming. The move has resulted in a consistent ratings climb. Comparing June to December 2002 to the same period in 2001, DKLA jumped from the 16th to the sixth most-watched pay-TV channel in cable households in the region.

DKLA’s primary audience is two- to five-year-olds, with a secondary target of women ages 25 to 49, with whom the net also made significant in-roads last year. Measuring the latter half 2002 compared to the same period in 2001, DKLA jumped up from 17th to fourth among pay-TV nets with this group, registering a 0.19 rating, according to ratings tracker IBOPE. ‘We’re seeing key increases during the daytime and nighttime, which confirms that we are attracting this dual target – which is a very attractive offering to advertisers,’ says Joa Silar.

Since no ratings agencies track the two to five demo pan-regionally, it’s impossible to say how DKLA is faring with its core audience. That said, with four-to 11-year-olds in Q1 2003, the channel recorded an average period-over-period gain of 76% in the region’s four biggest markets – Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Mexico.

Free-to-air is still the dominant mode of transmission in Latin America, with pay-TV cable/satellite accounting for less than 20% of households in key markets such as Brazil and Mexico. DKLA’s current penetration of the market is 13 million, or approximately 56% of total TV households that IBOPE measures. Though for Q1 DKLA is the fourth highest-rated kids channel among cable households in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico behind Cartoon Network, Nick and Fox Kids (in Chile, it ranked third), Joa Silar isn’t bent on unseating those channels. ‘I don’t think there’s a direct competitor for us,’ she says. On weekdays, DKLA has an eight-hour programming wheel, which starts at 7 a.m. and runs to 3 p.m. before repeating twice. In January, the net extended its preschool-or-bust philosophy to its weekend schedule. Though DKLA features no blocks per se, the channel gears its dayparts to specific demos. Beginning at 7 a.m. are shows for one- to two-year-olds such as Ragdoll’s Teletubbies and localized Sesame Street format Plaza Sesamo, and then the programming day transitions at 10 a.m. into fare for the two to four set, with HIT’s Bob the Builder and Neptuno’s Connie the Cow. Noon to 3 p.m. is reserved for the four to six demo, headlined by Tracey McBean (Egmont/TeleScreen), Zoboomafoo (Cinar) and the net’s top-rated series Barney (HIT), which ranked first in its time slot in February in Chile, with a 2.2 rating with four- to 11-year-olds.

Currently, DKLA’s schedule is split 80/20 between acquired and original or co-produced programming. Joa Silar says she’d like to see more of the latter, but is only interested in partnering on projects that bring some equity to the table, such as book-based series. ‘We’re not looking to just invest in ideas. The property has to have some kind of pedigree in the marketplace,’ she says.

As for formats, Joa Silar is after series with a minimum of 26 eps that are each at least 11 minutes in length. Anything shorter, she says, makes it to difficult to fill out a half hour of programming.

Spanish and Portuguese are Latin America’s two main languages, so producers face added dubbing costs when selling their shows to DKLA. Joa Silar prefers that DKLA handle this process, since it already has relationships with local dubbing houses, and the channel maintains right of refusal on voice talent for any programming it buys.

Though Joa Silar doesn’t anticipate major changes to DKLA’s schedule this coming programming season, she will add two new series in July: The Save-Ums!, a co-pro from Decode and Discovery Kids; and Paz from Egmont, TeleScreen, Discovery Kids and King Rollo Films. Joa Silar is scouting for two anchor series (either live-action or animated) for the two to four set this year and up to six new shows for 2004, adding that a series like Nick’s Dora the Explorer tops her dream list.

She says that DKLA is always on the hunt for shows that help children improve their learning and cognitive skills, but that doesn’t mean she’s after curriculum-heavy programs. ‘The mission of Discovery is to create lifelong learners, but we don’t want to be known as an ‘educational’ channel. We are about characters and entertainment, and through that vehicle we teach children.’

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